With this Community Foundation of Morgan County Impact Grant, Pack Away Hunger (PAH) conducted an inclusive hands-on learning and service opportunity on March 17, 2023 for 150 students at John R. Wooden Middle School in Martinsville. This program was open to all students in the school who wished to sign up.
PAH’s Nutrition & Hunger Educator led 40 minutes of nutrition and hunger education. This curriculum included explanations of hunger and food insecurity, their significance and how each impacts the students and their Morgan County community. Students then broke into small groups of about 7 people, which helped visually reiterate the statistic that 1 in 7 children in America are food insecure. The groups worked together to create grocery lists based on a given budget to feed a family of four for a month. This allowed students to engage in communication and helped students realize the true cost of groceries, including how difficult it can be to obtain adequate and healthy meals.
Participants then received an assigned table number and moved to the cafeteria where the meal pack portion of the program was set up. Suited up in gloves and hairnets, participants worked alongside fellow students to pack 42,768 highly nutritious, shelf stable meal pouches. Each student had an assigned role on the assembly line and was responsible for: opening the meal bag; pouring the vegetables, soy or rice; weighing the bag for accuracy; or sealing and boxing the completed bags.
This program allowed John R. Wooden Middle school to educate students about nutrition and hunger, supplying a small portion of the federally suggested nutrition education instruction. Without this grant funding, the school likely wouldn’t have the available funds to host this program as 45 percent of its students are eligible for free/reduced lunch making it difficult to seek donations from families to cover the costs of the program.
PAH and John R. Wooden Middle School had an immediate impact on Morgan County and its food insecure residents by distributing 1,188 meals to Wooden/Bell Food Pantry, the school’s food pantry, and 2,376 meals to Churches In Mission making a hot meal available to anyone seeking the assistance of each organization.
This program allowed students to practice many soft skills (i.e., communication, teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking) imperative to successful employment as outlined by the U.S. Department of Labor. (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/program-areas/individuals/youth/transition/soft-skills)
PAH achieved or exceeded all of the short-term goals of this program, including: Compliance in meal quality/sanitation; 40,000 meals packed; and at least 150 students receive hunger education and hands-on service opportunity driving up students’ interest in volunteering and choosing healthier food options.
PAH’s long-term goals have yet to be realized as food insecurity rate statistics are only available through 2020. Additionally, because of the students’ ages, a positive impact on high school and college graduation rates in Morgan Co. is yet to be determined.